Step 1: Selecting the statement to check
Remember that not all statements are created equal. Here are some quantifiable criteria to help establish a hierarchy of the most important facts to check:
- What statements are causing the most buzz in the community?
- What has gone viral on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.)?
- What are our readers reading/commenting on? What are our readers’ favourite topics, generally?
- How often are the statements being repeated (on TV & online etc.)?
- Can the statement be proven or well-supported by facts? Or is the statement a prediction or otherwise subjective? (Those fact checks can be difficult to write and less helpful to readers, though don’t rule out these statements if they meet other criteria.)
- Does the statement contain many numbers and statistics about one particular topic? Statistics can be manipulated to support a partisan message; checking those numbers is a valuable service to our readers.
Writers can and should investigate a wide variety of potential content sources to find and assess statements to check. These include:
- TV/radio ads
- Internet ads
- TV/radio talk shows
- Internet talk shows and blogs
- Web sites
- YouTube videos
- Social media posts
Because of the growth in communication methods, there’s a concurrent increase in the number of potential statements to check. But limit each fact check to only one statement or a set of statements that are clearly related; otherwise, the fact check can become confusing and unwieldy.
Another point to remember: Although we are not keeping a “scorecard” on the number of fact checks produced about one team or another, we must be aware of that balance. If you find that too many fact checks investigate one particular person or party, writers should re-examine how those statements are being selected and make sure the process is sensible and defensible.
Step 2: Researching and writing the fact check
A designated writer and editor must be assigned to each fact check at the beginning of the process. The management must approve the statement to be fact-checked.
When examining the statement to be checked, look for these common red flags:
- Deceptive dramatisation. Watch for accurate words combined with misleading images.
- Strong visuals, attempts at humour, music, etc., are a method of encouraging readers/viewers to uncritically absorb bad information.
- Guilt by association.
- Misappropriating news stories. Similar to movie ads that pull only positive words from critical reviews.
- “Misplaced referent.” Overuse of “we” “you” and “they” can be used to take words out of context.
- Out-of-context examples and references.
- “Visual vilification.” Using unattractive or photoshopped images to make someone seem unappealing.
- Deception by omission: What is NOT being said?
- Biased sources – While information from the source may appear correct, what about the source itself? Is it partisan, biased, projecting its own ideology?
- Cherry-picking data. Selectively uses data to make a candidate look good or the opponent looks bad.
- Invented/inflammatory words or phrases– Watch for labels that are crafted to influence public opinion and mislead readers.
- Outdated evidence. Uses old studies or statistics that are now irrelevant or no longer true.
- Absolutes and superlatives. Descriptors such as “worst,” “best,” “highest,” “lowest” and so on should be considered red-flag words. Often these statements are incorrect and are relatively easy to fact check.
When you have selected a statement, the first point of call should be to the person or party responsible for making the statement. Here is the checklist for proceeding with your fact check.
- First using e-mail, contact the person responsible for making the statement and the target, if applicable. If they don’t answer, then call. Even if you’re not ready with questions, let them know that you’re doing a fact check, and ask them for the precise source of their statement. (Check their sources but remember you are looking for the ORIGINAL source of the statement. For example, you don’t want a story about the fact; you want the fact itself.)
- Work on obtaining facts and expert sources. Check archives, google search, online or actual books. Check social media for sources, debates, discussion, image debunking, or tweets/Facebook posts to illustrate your fact check (if that’s included in your format.) Seek help from the research staff when you need it.
- Contact experts — pro, con, and neutral — using the list you compiled in #2.
- Interview the subject and the target (if applicable) to address the facts you have gathered.
- Write*, then fact check your fact check. Using additional sources, corroborate the evidence/verification. Use verification tools where necessary, for photos, videos, etc.
- After all interviews and research are gathered, decide on the label for your fact check. You must choose one of these four labels from our standard list: Correct; Misleading — correct, but with a particularly remarkable lack of context; Incorrect; Opinion/Not Provable (This label should be rarely used.)
- Edit and Review**. After your fact check goes through the normal editing process, it will be sent to content leads who have not been involved in the process for a final review. The final review will use standardised questions for each fact check and will focus on how our readers might perceive and assess it.
*Guidelines for writing the fact check
Use this checklist to write and prepare your fact check for editing:
- Have you included the wording of the statement you’re checking, word for word?
- Have you explained why this statement was selected for checking? (Refer to Step 1 above).
- Have you explained the category of deception? (Refer to Step 2 above).
- Have you identified the sources for every fact you’ve used?
- Do you have at least two independent, qualified sources to refute or support the statement that you checked?
- Have you included links to your sources, and to the statement being checked?
**Guidelines for reviewing and editing the fact check
The reviewer assigned to the fact check must first thoroughly edit the fact check, working with the reporter to clear up any questions or inconsistencies. Then, the fact check must be edited and approved by our fact-check reviewers who will serve as a typical reader’s eyes and ears. These two editors must not be involved in the original production of the fact check and must come from this group based on the availability
The two additional editors must first ensure that all criteria from the writing checklist (see Step 3) have been met. Then, they must use the following final editing checklist (based in part on the PolitiFact checklist):
- Is the claim open to interpretation? Is there another way to read the claim?
- Is the rating fair and consistent with our other fact checks?
- Is our rating supported by all available facts? Do questions linger?
STEP 3: Producing the fact check
The fact check should be published on the web as soon as it’s approved and ready. Any delay must be considered and approved by the managing editor. Publishing a fact check as soon as it’s ready is a defensible action; delaying or scheduling the fact check can invite suspicion and criticism.
Print version (if applicable) should be published consistently in the same section with the same headline treatment and footprint.
Video fact checks should be produced carefully. We follow the guidelines created by FactCheck.org. A full version is online, but here are the basics:
- Avoid repeating the ad in your fact check if the ad has been shown to be incorrect or misleading.
- Use the same title for each video fact check.
- Box the ad or otherwise alter it so there is no confusion that it might be a regularly scheduled ad.
- Label the ad with the ad sponsor’s name.
- Clearly superimpose corrections and conclusion/adjudication over the ad.
- Recap the key points about the fact check in your wrapup.
Step 4: Promoting your fact check through social media
Remember that anyone posting to our organization’s social media accounts must first take our social media training course.
Social media is a crucial vehicle for distributing our work. Fact checks should be posted to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t put your byline on.
Keep the structure of tweets consistent.
Tweet words and phrases directly from your story only after the story has been approved by all senior writers. If you have any questions about the phrasing of your tweet, please see an editor who has worked on the story.
Step 5: What to do after your fact check is published
Make sure your fact check is archived properly with all appropriate keywords.
Read comments and social media reactions to your fact check. Is there a follow-up?
If there is a correction: The editor’s note should be placed on top of the story, clearly stating the incorrect information and the corrected information. The revised fact check should be posted on social media with the words: Corrected FACT CHECK